Review: ‘Burn After Reading’

Written alongside their Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men," the Coen brothers' smaller-scale "Burn After Reading" proved almost inevitably anticlimactic. So it's all the more disappointing to find that Universal offers truly paltry bonuses for the movie's homevid bow.

Written alongside their Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men,” the Coen brothers’ smaller-scale “Burn After Reading” proved almost inevitably anticlimactic. So it’s all the more disappointing to find that Universal offers truly paltry bonuses for the movie’s homevid bow.

Pic’s shortcomings remain pronounced, specifically the miscasting of George Clooney as a boorish federal marshal and Frances McDormand (Mrs. Joel Coen) as a gym manager scarily determined to get an extravagant makeover via plastic surgery.

That said, pic’s stronger elements — namely Brad Pitt’s endearing portrayal of a dim fitness instructor, John Malkovich’s volatile discharged spy and the film’s handsome production design — hold up well on the small screen.

Though measuring value purely in quantitative terms is unwise, it’s hard to imagine buyers applauding bonuses totaling less than 20 minutes, especially at the price point U is asking.

More important, the three skimpy featurettes — “Finding the Burn,” “DC Insider Run Amuck” and “Welcome Back George” — don’t lend much insight, unless one considers it important to know that the film’s Georgetown locale is actually Brooklyn Heights. More common are revelations such as how thrilled the Coens were to be working with Clooney for a third time.

The one tantalizing tidbit concerns the brothers’ claim that in adolescence they remade 1962’s “Advise & Consent,” presumably on a shoestring budget. Viewers will have to decide for themselves whether to believe it.

Given the Coens cult status among cineastes, to say nothing of their growing mainstream following, one has to hope that a more generously supplemented re-release looms, and that this sad excuse for a full-price issue is merely an attempt to cash in on the gift-giving season.

Burn After Reading

$29.98; Release date: Dec. 21, 2008

Production

Universal Home Video

Crew

Running Time: 96 MIN.

Cast

Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt.
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